What Is Indigenous Peoples’ Day? - HISTORY

Columbus Day parade, October 12, 1949, New York City.

But decades later, the question of which European got here “first” is beside the point. “Indigenous People’s Day represents a much more honest and fair representation of American values,” writes Killsback, who is a citizen of the Northern Cheyenne Nation of southeastern Montana.

The day also represents a subject that many American students can go through school without ever learning much about. In a 2015 op-ed, Shannon Speed, director of the American Indian Studies Center at the University of California, Los Angeles, and a Chickasaw tribal citizen, wrote that “virtually none of my university students has had any education whatsoever in the history of this country’s treatment of the 10 million or so people who lived here before Europeans arrived.”

Indigenous Peoples’ Day can’t fully address the erasure of Native American history from public education on its own. But it offers a focus to this history in schools, where many history textbooks leave out Native Americans or sanitize white colonizer’s treatment of them. When the city of Austin adopted Indigenous Peoples’ Day in October 2017, the resolution stated that the city wanted to encourage schools to teach this history.

In her op-ed, Speed wrote of her students’ common belief in the “vanishing Indian,” meaning that her students often think of Native Americans as people who lived in the past rather than living people who continue to practice their cultures today. 

In Berkeley, for example, the Indigenous Peoples’ Day Committee celebrated the holiday’s 25th anniversary in the city with dancing, food, and songs from local Native American tribes. Berkeley was the first city to adopt Indigenous Peoples’ Day back in 1991, and it continues to mark the holiday by highlighting both the history and contemporary culture of Native peoples.

READ MORE: Native American History Timeline

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